Mmake sense of it if you can. Yesterday morning it was one minute to midnight and humanity was 5-1 during climate change. Today, the time must be at least 50 seconds to midnight, and we have beaten a goal back. Or maybe two. Presumably the other is still being checked by VAR. So the score is either 5-2 or 5-3. Boris Johnson did not seem to know which one as he prepared to leave Cop26 in Glasgow.
Although he thought we were probably heading into extra time. At least that seemed to be the crux of what Johnson had to say, though it was hard to say as he gives no sign of knowing how football works. In the clash of metaphors, the first sacrifice is clarity.
Again, it was not entirely obvious why the Prime Minister had convened a press conference in the first place, when he did not really have much to say. The only logical conclusion was that he had been a bit carried away. He had obviously come to Glasgow in anticipation that the conference would be a total disaster and was relieved to discover that it had all gone a little better than he had expected. Bertie Booster was now cautiously optimistic that world leaders would find enough they could agree on to make it look as if some progress had been made, and he wanted to share his enthusiasm with someone.
Not that he would raise hopes massively. But 122 nations had agreed to tackle deforestation, 90% of the world was committed to net zero, great strides had been made with methane, and developed countries would be only a little late in achieving an unambitious goal of giving £ 100 billion a year to developing countries. But it should all be a good thing to have achieved in just two days, right? At which point Boris fell back into his James Bond fantasies and started talking about possibly cutting the right wires over to defuse the bomb.
Understandably, the media did not fully share the Prime Minister’s optimism. Many of the journalists have been to more police summits than Boris and have a better idea of how these things work. They know that the bottom line for many world leaders is to come up with a few eye-catching headlines at the beginning of the conference so they can then slip home again – after congratulating each other on how much they had done to save the planet.
Whether anything changed was neither here nor there. It was all about the optics. For 48 hours or so, the private world of the rich and powerful was played out in public. So we got Boris to pay tribute to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a hero of climate change because he had committed India to net zero by 2070. Which was at least 20 years too late as the planet would have been burned by that time. Any idea of taking the game in overtime was for the birds with that kind of goal. But Modi should be praised. For he would then in turn praise Boris.
And everyone turned to Jeff Bezos. Because the founder of Amazon had promised $ 2 billion to save the Amazon. No matter if he could easily have doubled that level of funding without feeling pinched. At Cop26, generosity is a relative concept. But the organizers could not have been happier to have him and his support. So no one dared ask Jeff about the hypocrisy in his recent venture into space tourism. Jeff’s CO2 footprint cannot be questioned because he has so much money to give. It’s rather spoiled as he went on to say how life-changing his 10-minute space flight had been. “Oh Mr. Bezos, you are so wonderful,” sobbed the participant. See me, feel me, touch me.
And it was this “Lifestyle couple Jeff” that Boris had fallen for and that he was called out on. Why did no one talk about China? Without the active commitment of the world’s biggest polluter, everyone wasted their time. It was like being 5-2 seconds behind from the end of the game and playing without two of your star strikers. Johnson did not even pretend to have an answer. Things just wanted to work out somehow because they had always done it before. Even if they did not have. The trick was to believe.
The questions did not get easier. How could the world trust Brazil to keep its promises given Jair Bolsonaro’s results in destroying the rainforest? Boris shrugged. He was sure that the Brazilian president would keep his word this time, and moreover, people would stop buying goods sourced from Brazil if he did not. Keep dreaming. So pray reality. Developing countries have already said that none of this was enough. They faced annihilation if global temperatures were not limited to a rise of 1.5 degrees, and even with the new agreements we were nowhere near that. And the developed world needed to discard far more than the £ 100 billion a year it already did not provide.
“Look, I do not want to sugar-coat this,” Bertie Booster said. But he did. For that is what he always does. He can not cope with too much reality. Like so many others on Cop26, it is the illusion of having made a difference that counts. With that, Boris traveled to take home. He felt a little guilty about the private plane, but it was much smaller than some other world leaders’ plane, and he could always plant a tree in Downing Street. That should offset the carbon emissions.
A Farewell to Calm by John Crace (Guardian Faber, £ 9.99). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery costs may apply.